Why So Serious?

 

For some reason, whether it be the complexity of the story, or the fact that I know the true meaning behind it, I cannot seem to just quietly read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. With every sentence, I get the intense urge to scribble down an annotation or a thought. However, the version I am currently reading is a beautiful, cloth-bound, gold-foil-stamped piece of art found at a local book consignment boutique, so naturally, I feel disinclined to sully any of its precious pages.

My next best option, then, is to take down a note and remind myself to write about it later – which leads us to the following passages that stuck out to me as I was reading last night:

  • “And Lucy felt in her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you’re being solemn and still.”
  • “Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.”
  • “The shield was the colour of silver and across it there ramped a red lion, as bright as a ripe strawberry at the moment when you pick it. The hilt of the sword was of gold and it had a sheath and a sword belt and everything it needed, and it was just the right size and weight for Peter to use. Peter was silent and solemn as he received these gifts, for he felt they were a very serious kind of present.”

Notice that C. S. Lewis uses the word “solemn” to mean something very different than words with which you would normally equate it. It is not used once or twice, but three times in a matter of two pages, which I found to be a little odd. This is the reason I felt so obliged to stop and analyze why this word was so carefully chosen.

Clearly, C. S. Lewis is not a novice author, and he undoubtedly has a multitude of words in his literary arsenal, so why choose exactly the same one to be used three times in three different descriptive senses so close to one another?

I do not believe it was a mistake, but a very thoughtful and careful crafting of words that mean something more than meets the eye.

The dictionary definition of “solemn” has about seven different variations. The most obvious ones, of course, are used to describe something as “grave,” or “somber,” or “depressing.” Certainly, this was not the intended meaning behind the passages given above.

Another Dictionary definition of “solemn” says the word can also mean “serious,” “dignified,” or “having a religious character.” In passage 1, the author uses it to describe Lucy’s feelings of deep gladness – exactly the opposite of what “solemn” typically means. However, paired with the word “still,” I believe it changes the meaning of the word by altering the context.

To me, the word “still,” is what binds it all together. The word “still” is used in passages 1 and 2 alongside “solemn,” and in passage 3, the word “silent” is used, another term for stillness. If we refer back to the Bible, I am reminded of two verses which speak to the same effect as these three passages:

Philippians 4:7

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Taking these verses and the passages from the book, I think it is safe to say we can equate the words “solemn,” “still,” and “peace,” with one another in context.

The importance of this is the notion that solemnity, or stillness, is a trait valued by God. To be solemn is to be still, but in an entirely deeper sense of the word. To be solemn is to rest in stillness and respect; to bask in the peace of God.

The kind of joy that Lucy was feeling in passage 1 is the joy that accompanies the peace being spoken of in Philippians 4:7.

In passage 2, the children meet Father Christmas for the first time, and they experience what is described as stillness, gladness and solemnity all at once. And in passage 3, Peter is given his gift of the sword and shield, his reaction being to remain silent and solemn.

 

Solemn, quiet, peaceful.

 

These are not words used often to describe happiness. When we think of being “happy,” we think of being surrounded by friends and family, being busy with an array of activities and laughing uncontrollably. While these things are certainly not bad, I do not believe they lead to the kind of joy God wants for us. True happiness and joy as described by the word of God is simply being still, being quiet and resting in His peace.

Lucy may have been just a young girl, but she was wise beyond her years. I hope to continue practicing the art of being still and solemn and rejecting the world’s definition of what “happiness” really is in search of what God has intended for us.

 

Cover photo credit here.

He is not safe, but He is good

I recently made a promise to myself that I would begin reading more books. Call it a new year’s resolution, or call it a productive goal; what really matters is the thing itself. They say reading makes you a better writer and improves your overall emotional intelligence, but I have to admit neither of those reasons is my main concern. I believe there is something unexplainable that occurs when you pick up a good book and spend time immersing yourself in the story. You go somewhere else in a way that doesn’t quite happen when watching a TV show or a movie.

When you watch TV or go to the movies, the story is happening right in front of you – nothing is left to the imagination. It’s all spelled out; the color of each character’s eyes, the way the sun shines on the grass outside, the look of each brick on a house, the sound of the wind blowing. These things do not make much of a different or impact on your experience because you do not have to acknowledge or think of them as the plotline unfolds before you.

However, when reading a book, the author encourages – no, forces – you to put together a complete image in your mind of every single detail described in the imagery. Take this passage from the classic novel Anne of Green Gables:

“It was October again… a glorious October, all red and gold, with mellow mornings when the valleys were filled with delicate mists as if the spirit of autumn had poured them in for the sun to drain — amethyst, pearl, silver, rose, and smoke-blue. The dews were so heavy that the fields glistened like cloth of silver and there were such heaps of rustling leaves in the hollows of many-stemmed woods to run crisply through.”

Could any photo of fall leaves or a video shoot driving through an Autumn forest ever give you quite the feeling of utter immersion in the season more than a passage like that? I am almost positive the answer is no.

So, long story short…the point of these last 400 or so words is that I want to read more to experience stories more fully, more vividly and more tangibly. Where does that takes us now?

Glad you asked – the answer is that it takes us straight into the entire purpose of this entry, which is to write to you about a certain passage I came across recently (in my ongoing attempt to read more) in the acclaimed children’s epic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Now that I’ve mentioned his name, I feel as though I could talk about him for days, but I will save those thoughts for another time. I’m sure the time will certainly come.

To return to the main plotline of this post however, the passage that struck me reads:

Is-is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.

As most people already know, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was written not only to serve as a sweet and entertaining story for children, but also to act as a parallel representation of Jesus’ sacrifice for man, His resurrection and the nature of God’s relationship with His people. If you were not aware, here is what C.S. Lewis wrote about his intentions in creating this famous and beautiful allegory: 

“What Aslan meant when he said he had died is, in one sense plain enough. Read the earlier book in this series called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and you will find the full story of how he was killed by the White Witch and came to life again. When you have read that, I think you will probably see that there is a deeper meaning behind it. The whole Narnian story is about Christ. That is to say, I asked myself ‘Supposing that there really was a world like Narnia and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours), what might have happened?’ The stories are my answers. Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He would become a Talking Beast there, as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called ‘The Lion of Judah’ in the Bible; (c) I’d been having strange dreams about lions when I began writing the work. The whole series works out like this.

So, let us get back to the passage I referenced as one that felt heavy on my heart.

Something that has tugged at me over the last few days in my newly-refreshed walk with Christ is that following God is not the smooth, painless path described to us in our childhoods (those of us who grew up in the church, anyway). It seems like my memories of bible lessons from Sunday School often featured a narrative of Christ that was flowery and sweet. They often switched between two distinct modes: 1) Heroic tales of the Old Testament – think David and Goliath, Moses parting the Red Sea, Jonah and the whale, Noah’s ark etc. And 2) Stories of love and encouragement from the New Testament – often found in the Gospel chapters or Romans or Philippians.

Let me say now that I am entirely grateful for my upbringing in the church. In no way do I suggest that we start educating our youth on the tough, harsh or downright scary aspects of the Bible. I understand that children need a different kind of spiritual nourishment.

However, this leads me to my next point – and that is that a theme I have seen as I grew older and continued learning about Christ was that the watered down, fairytale version of the biblical stories didn’t seem to fade very much. In America, and no doubt in other parts of the Christian world, we are experiencing a new kind of Christianity – a “safe Christianity.” One that preaches the prosperity gospel, universalist theories and even goes so far as to accept that other gods from different religions are ok in their own rite.

I suppose the real message of the Word of God, while it does contain such teachings as the ones we learned in childhood and ones of prosperity and God’s goodness, is just a little too scary for most adults to accept. It is easier to hold on to the easy, the sweet. Who would want to choose the darker, more treacherous path instead of the sunny, well-paved option? Who would want to eat vegetables and nutritious foods when given the option to choose a piece of cake? These questions seem quite trivial when they are compared with the matter at hand, but I just had to have my shot at crafting out a metaphor.

But I digress.

I’ll attempt to come full circle now with entire meaning behind this essay – and that is this:

When I read the line “’Course he isn’t safe, but he’s good,” a reference to Aslan, the ruler of Narnia, I could not help myself from thinking about our own Lord. (Who, as mentioned earlier, is a literary representation of Christ.)

Is this not true of our God? Is following Jesus Christ truly “safe?” In relation to our salvation and the life to come, nothing could be more secure. But in terms of our life here on Earth, I believe the answer is no. Choosing to truly follow Christ and make Him the ruler of your life is not a safe thing to choose, especially in this day and age. God leads His followers down difficult and sometimes frightening paths as they walk in His will. He calls us to be different from the world, often leading to scary conversations with friends, coworkers and even family.

All the stories of our childhood that were painted to be safe for children’s ears are in all actuality, stories of heroes who followed God into absolute mortal peril. Jonah was swallowed by an enormous, and undoubtedly carnivorous, fish [Jonah 1:17]. Noah was faced with the demise of the planet and faced intense ridicule for his obedience [Genesis 5:32]. Daniel was thrown into a den with hungry lions [Daniel 6:16]. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were burned alive [Daniel 3:16]. And do I even have to spell out Job’s suffering [The book of Job]?

These brave figures did things that many of us would never dream of doing in today’s world. And remember, they experienced God the same way we do now – Jesus had not come to Earth yet – people knew God through His spirit alone, the same spirit we have with us right now.

Is God safe? I think the only safe thing is to conclude is that no – absolutely not. He is not a safe God. He does not want us to lead safe lives. But – is He good? Absolutely. Without a doubt, our God is the very definition of goodness. He loves us with an eternal love we cannot begin to comprehend.

So, in conclusion of this very lengthy post, let’s all take heed of Mr. Beaver’s words from the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when he tells the children that Aslan is not safe, but he is good. We cannot expect to lead a safe life walking with Jesus, but we can expect that He will love us and care for us no matter the obstacles that come our way.

 

A Bout with Doubt

Recently, I had a bout with doubt.

Those words feel just as wretched to type out as they do to say out loud. But perhaps, one thing I have learned during this whole troublesome experience is that the term “doubt” feels like something much more than wretched. In fact, it feels downright despicable when it materializes as a thought inside the mind of a believer. The doubt I had presented itself as a thought I could not shake, no matter how much I tried to distract myself. It always showed up, pulling, nagging and scratching away.

Internal banter with your own voice can be quite dangerous. Now, do not misunderstand the term “dangerous” in the sense I’m using – I am in no way attempting to stop you from thinking thoughts to yourself. I believe knowing how to spend time alone with your own thoughts is important, but that is a whole other issue, and it is not the subject at hand. Internal banter can be dangerous when you do not know how to recognize your own thoughts apart from outside influences.

We have all heard of a sly and scheming character Christians refer to as “the enemy.” Well, as grotesque as it may seem, we must all accept the fact that the enemy can, will and is attempting to alter your state of mind. It is a fact; it is not a question or a theory up for speculation. As uncomfortable as this particular topic is, it is one of the most important, in my opinion, for all believers to address so that they can stand firm and avoid falling into a pit of despair as I have done. (Although, this post would not have come to pass if not for my bout with doubt, so we have ourselves in a bit of a contradiction, wouldn’t you say? God truly is in control).

Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Luke 22:31-32 says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Romans 7:23 says, “but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.”

So, what these verses tell us is that the holy word of God has warned us time and time again of a spiritual battle that is not a historical recollection, nor a future forewarning. These things are happening right now, in the present. They happened to the disciples, they happened to our forefathers, they are happening to us and they will happen to our grandchildren.

Now, I am not attempting to spell out a message of gloom and doom. Please do not take my words as a warning to be afraid of your own mind, and let me tell you why:

Not only does the Lord tell us specifically that the enemy will try to prey on our weak minds, but he also tells us to arm ourselves with the very thing the enemy will try to overtake. In other words, the battle is not only taking place in our mind, but our mind is also the defensive weapon we can use to thwart the enemy’s attack. But how do we do this?

Much has been written so far about the who, what, why and where of this particular matter:

Who: the enemy

What: spiritual warfare

Why: to lead us astray from Christ

Where: our minds

While these questions are important to address and answer, they do not provide much solace or comfort, do they? They did not for me. But, I had to travel down that road of seeking the answers to those questions before I landed on the “How” of the matter. How do we fight this spiritual war and how do we do it with confidence?

My first instinct was to go to the scripture, and I continually landed on one verse that has successfully directed me through quite a few hurdles throughout my life.

Romans 8:39 says, “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can ever separate us from the love that is Jesus Christ our Lord.”

That is a powerful message. And while it did bring me to a place where I could stop my mind from spinning constantly in a whirlpool of questions like “Where is God?” “Who is God?” “Is God even there?” and the like, it did not lead me to peace immediately. I needed to keep seeking in order to successfully ward off the enemy in this particular battle.

At this point I looked to spiritual leaders for guidance – people who are known to have strong walks with God whom I could look to for wisdom. So, I listened to sermons from Francis Chan, Breakaway Ministries and Brooklyn Tabernacle. I read about the life of C.S. Lewis and listened to excerpts from his classic book, Mere Christianity. Hearing from leaders in the faith can give us confidence and help us understand more about who God is by weaving together concepts that are difficult to work out on our own.

Another practice that helped immensely during my search for answers and peace was searching for some evidence that other believers have gone through the same difficulty. It surprised me to find out that highly revered Christians such as Mother Teresa, Charles Spurgeon and even C.S. Lewis himself have had their own struggles with doubt. However, the quote that resonated the heaviest with me was one from Anne Lamott (who I admit I had never heard of until I came across this article from Relevant Magazine. Her quote read, “I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me—that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”

This helped me come to the very important conclusion that faith is something bigger than us. Faith is a practice that no mortal is completely capable of handling on our own. It involves an incredible amount of mental fortitude, and we need Christ’s help to continue building our faith every single day. This reminds me of a verse in 1 Corinthians that says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” To me, this verse is a reminder that no person is below any sin, and we must remember that we need Jesus’ redemption to carry on in God’s will.

So, to sum up my experience – my bout with doubt – in just a few words, I found myself in a dark place. I chose to continue trusting in God to lead me out of it, even though I was not sure if I could hear His voice or feel His presence. With persistent seeking, praying and trusting in God’s promises, I found my way back into His peace. I felt that peace that surpasses all understanding He promises in Philippians 4:7. He calmed my racing mind, settled my weary heart and made my soul new once again.

If you ever have your own issues with doubting God, or if you find yourself in a difficult place, I hope this recollection of my personal experience helps you in some way. God is good all the time, and He will always lead you back to Him as long as you continue to seek Him, even in the darkness.